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Post–2011: The future of the census

Irish in Britain has attached great importance to data deriving from the Census, which is why (as the Federation of Irish Societies) we campaigned hard and successfully to have an Irish category included the Ethnic Group Question in the 2001 Census, and why we campaign to get those qualified to do so to ‘Tick the Irish box’. 

Irish in Britain and our affiliates use census data from the Census and other sources widely in our representation and advocacy work.

Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude’s criticism of the decennial Census as “expensive and inaccurate [as a way of] measuring the number of people in Britain”, appeared in The Telegraph in July 2010, under the headline “National census to be axed after 200 years”. This opened up a debate on the future of the Census, and on the cost and the structure of any future Census.

The Office for National Statistics has played a leading part in shaping that debate and the proposals which were contained in the National Statistician’s recommendations on ‘The Census and the future provision of population statistics in England and Wales’ (March 2014), a submission which was supported by the Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority. The chief recommendations of this document were as follows:

♦ An online census of all households and communal establishments in England and Wales in 2021 as a modern successor to the traditional, paper–based decennial census. ONS recognises that special care would need to be taken to support those who are unable to complete the census online.

This would be combined with:

  • Increased use of administrative data and surveys in order to enhance the statistics from the 2021 Census and improve annual statistics between censuses.
  • Together these would make the best use of all available data to provide the population statistics which England and Wales require and offer a springboard to the greater use of administrative data and annual surveys in the future.

The emphasis on an online census seeks to meet government criticism of the cost of the 2011 Census, while the emphasis on the use of other administrative data will go some way to meet the request from sections of the statistics communities of the need for more frequent updating of data.

During this period ONS has been responsible, directly or indirectly, for numerous surveys, focus groups and public dialogue workshops, the findings of which were summarised in March of this year in their: The Census and Future Provision of Population Statistics in England and Wales: Public attitudes to the use of personal data for official statistics.A significant conclusion of this document is that “the public express mixed opinions about the use of their personal data for research and statistical purposes. The majority support the sharing of data with ONS for statistical purposes, but there are strong concerns about security and privacy which must be allayed.” (p. 13)

 At another level, the ONS website hosts a Beyond 2001 Frequently Asked Questions section, dealing with such pertinent questions as ‘What about people who can’t fill out a census form on line?’ or ‘What about processing my privacy?’ Equally, another question ‘What sort of administrative data are you investigating?’ provides you with a selection of that data, but also with a link to more detailed lists of areas of administrative data being examined.

As consideration of proposals for a new form of Census continues we will keep you informed of developments and of opportunities to take part in consultations.